REVIEW: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Review by Booktopia’s Michael Marlow)

Londoner Anthony Ryan has the world talking, an exciting new voice in Fantasy Fiction. Booktopia’s Michael Marlow shares his thoughts on his latest book Blood Song
blood-songAuthor Anthony Ryan initially made a name for himself in the cutthroat marketplace of self-published online eBooks. He has now made his first foray into the printed world with the brutal and skilfully paced Blood Song. Showing a slightly different approach to his contemporaries, Ryan takes a step back from the traditional gods and monsters of fantasy to present a more secular but no less engaging creation.

As a fantasy epic Blood Song is an impressive piece of work. The reader is given the impression of a complex and constantly evolving world that exists outside of the individual stories portrayed. Despite this you are never over-saturated with names and places as can happen in some clumsier works. Ryan makes us privy to just the right amount of lore to ensure the character driven storyline never has to take a back seat.
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The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings – a guest review by bestselling author Rachael Johns

Bestselling author and voracious consumer of romance Rachael Johns gives an insider’s perspective on The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings by Natasha Walker

Before I start, I must admit, I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey or any of the supposed spin-offs and had absolutely no inclination to do so. I read 100 pages of Grey because I thought I should – it sold bucket loads and as an author it would have been good research to work out why – but I honestly couldn’t go any further. Erotic romance has just never been my thing.  So, I’d never had any inclination to pick up The Secret Lives of Emma series either. There were just too many other books on my TBR pile. I like a hot sex scene as much as the next person in a romance, but I’m more there for the romance than the sex. Continue reading

A Day with Abbi Glines

Hot footballers, coffee obsession and song-writing – all in a day’s work for bestselling author Abbi Glines

As you may have noticed from my recent review of Because of Low, I have just been introduced to the wonderful world of New Adult and, specifically, the work of Abbi Glines. Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasureabbi lunch table of meeting her, interviewing her (podcast to follow soon) and even dining with her. Below is a brief summation of what I learnt in our time together: Continue reading

Love in the Heart of Danger – a guest blog by Helene Young

Helene Young shares her love of Australia’s own brand of romantic suspense in a guest blog for Booktopia.

Helene Young

Do you love stories with gripping plots and action-packed suspense set in Australia? Do you prefer stories with strong women and optimistic endings, maybe even a love story?

Then you need to read Australian Romantic Suspense  - a ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ genre, with a compelling romance story side-by-side with a crime, suspense or intrigue plot. They are complex books in terms of subject matter, dealing with topical issues such as cyber-crime, people trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism threats. The depth of emotion is strong, the relationships believable and the scenarios all too realistic. Continue reading

Because of Low by Abbi Glines – a Review by Haylee Nash

To say that I’m excited by the emergence of New Adult as a genre is a gross understatement. I’m ecstatic. And I’m not picky about the kind of New Adult, either. Because New Adult comes in many forms  – from erotic romance featuring late teens/early twenty-somethings, to angsty, edgy love stories to heartbreaking coming of age novels. For those of you who aren’t entirely sure what New Adult is, if it features people 17+ experiencing their ‘firsts’ (first love, first heartbreak, first time having sex or taking drugs etc) and features romance, then it probably sits in the New Adult genre.

So, now that you’re up to speed, let me introduce you to Continue reading

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – A Review from Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach

Bestselling author Khaled Hosseini returns to our shelves with his hugely anticipated third novel. On the eve of its release, Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach casts an eye over it.

Maya Angelou once said “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise”. Whether Khaled Hosseini has heard that sage advice is unlikely. That he shares the same view, however, is all but certain. His new novel And The Mountains Echoed shares the same heartbeat as his previous works, but instead of reaching for the stars he appears to have developed through regression, at least from an emotional standpoint. His latest offering, while boasting a globe hopping narrative and an array of multi-generational characters, is a measured, tender, and still powerful exploration of what makes us tick.

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REVIEW: ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ and ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ by Laini Taylor (Review by Sarah McDuling)

Days of Blood and Starlight is the second book in what has to be the most wildly imaginative and beautifully written Urban Fantasy series I have come across in a long, long time.

There was a time I’d have said Urban Fantasy was one of my favourite genres. But then along came a multi-million dollar book/movie franchise that will remain nameless (cough, cough, Twilight, cough) that was so insanely – dare I say inexplicably – popular that suddenly the market was flooded with books about vampires, werewolves, angels, demons etc. Unfortunately, so many of them were so amazingly awful that the genre was effectively ruined for me. Before long, I reached the stage where just thinking about Urban Fantasy caused me to start humming the Gotye song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.  When asked to express my thoughts on my once-beloved genre, I routinely responded with an exaggerated yawn and a dismissive “meh”.

Then along came Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I heard a lot of hype about Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it was published back in 2011. Friends recommended it to me – friends whose opinion I normally trusted. Then, too, the cover of the book was very pretty, which should not influence me but always does. I decided that I might be ready to give Urban Fantasy another shot, a chance to win back my love. Then I read the blurb and saw that it was about angels and demons and forbidden love and that was all I needed to know. Based on the blurb alone, I decided Daughter of Smoke and Bone was yet another trite, clichéd, predictable example of how a genre I used to love had been spoiled beyond all hope of redemption. Clearly the book was evil. I ran away, screaming.

And then, a few weeks ago, the book was recommended to me again – this time by my Booktopia co-worker and expert on all things Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Mark Timmony. Our conversation went a little something like this –

Mark: “You should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s pretty good.

Me: (backing away whilst making the sign of the cross with my fingers) “NEVER!”

But I guess there are only so many times that someone can recommend a book to me before curiosity demands I discover what all the fuss is about. So I caved to peer pressure. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And as soon as I had finished it, I wanted more. I could not get my hands on Days of Blood and Starlight fast enough and was delighted to find that it was even better than the first book.

If you have not read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I strongly urge you to do so. I say this especially to anyone who, like me, may have given up on Urban Fantasy. If you once loved reading about fantastical creatures and magical, hidden worlds existing alongside our own, but then got sick of it all and quit, a dose of Laini Taylor might be just what you need.

Giving a brief synopsis of this series will only make it sound like a hundred other Urban Fantasy books that you have probably already read (or fallen asleep trying to read). So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you this Urban Fantasy series is something special. Yes, it’s about angels and demons (or more specifically, seraphs and chimaera) and yes, it includes a subplot of Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance. But the difference here is that Laini Taylor has an imagination that can best be described as exquisitely grotesque. The world she has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight is both enchanting and frightening, rich in that special blend of magic and horror that is found in all the old, original fairytales. She matches her gorgeous prose with striking imagery in such a way that her writing manages to paint mental pictures as visually stunning as scenes from a Guillermo del Toro movie.

The Chimaera are beautiful monsters, half human and half animal. The Seraphim are ruthless angels with wings made of invisible flame, seen only in their shadows. These two races have been at war with one another for centuries, while the human race remains blissfully ignorant of their existence. And at the centre of the conflict is a blue haired girl called Karou, who is everything a reader could ask for in a heroine. Brave, strong minded, compassionate and loyal, Karou is no damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her one true love. Admittedly, this is mostly because her one true love has become her worst enemy. Still, Karou isn’t the sort to sit around moping just because her boyfriend “did her wrong”. This is why she is made of awesome, while so may other heroines of countless other urban fantasy novels are made of lame.

For those who read Urban Fantasy primarily for the romance factor, strap your boots on for the ride of your life. Karou and her main squeeze, Akiva, have a really spectacularly screwed up relationship. If “forbidden romance” floats your boat, you are going to love these guys. Most of the romance is played out in flashbacks, with the narrative switching viewpoints and time lines so that we get to see both sides of the story – his and hers, past and present. Karou and Akiva’s tale of thwarted love provides an underscore of raw heartache throughout both books, in spite of the fact that they hardly ever see each other in the present time line. In fact, they spend Days of Blood and Starlight fighting on opposites sides of an epic war. There’s no time to make-out. They’re way too busy planning rebellions, resurrecting the dead and love/hating each other from a distance.

Laini Taylor has created a fascinating world, with an equally fascinating history. There is plenty of tension and drama in the war between the races, with a whole host of compelling and original characters on both sides of the conflict. Karou’s best friend Zuzana, and her boyfriend Mik, are a delight to read – funny, cute and very endearing. Meanwhile, the “White Wolf” Thiago is a truly terrifying and repellent villain who, by the end of Days of Blood and Starlight is set up to play a very intriguing role in the next book.

To say that I am looking forward the follow up to Days of Blood and Starlight would be an understatement. With her excellent world building, character driven plots and beautiful imagery, Laini Taylor has reminded me why I used to love reading this genre so much.And while I’m not sure I’m ready to re-commit to a serious relationship with Urban Fantasy, I will say that I’m considering the possibility of something more casual. Perhaps a summer fling?   

Review by Sarah McDuling

REVIEW: Sebastian Faulks – A Possible Life (Review by Catherine Horne)

The day after I finished Sebastian Faulks’s astonishing new novel I sat down to a few episodes of Mad Men. In one of his many moments of boozy insight, Don Draper offers this pearl of advertising wisdom to his protégé Peggy Olson:

‘You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.’

This quote momentarily shattered my nostalgia-fuelled swoonfest as I realised that this is exactly how I feel about Faulks’s writing. It is so popular because it stokes our emotions to such an extent that we become embroiled in the drama of his characters; we become hyper-receptive to the message that he sends; and we want more of it. And I want more of A Possible Life. So much more. I cannot recall ever being so emotionally invested in a novel and that is such an exhilarating experience.

A Possible Life has a unique structure, which serves its purpose very well. The book could possibly be thought of as 5 short stories on a similar theme, however it is probably more apt to consider the theme as the main character, and the 5 stories as examples of this particular theme in action. (Faulks himself refers to the structure as ‘symphony’- distinct movements that contribute to the whole). The novel starts out with Geoffrey, a young English schoolteacher who becomes trapped in some of the most harrowing experiences of the Second World War. We then meet a nineteenth-century British lad with a Dickensian childhood; an Italian neuroscientist from several decades in the future; a maid in Napoleonic France and, finally, a Joni Mitchell-esque music star in the early 1970s.

Although these scenarios may appear to have little in common, they are all ruminations on the directions that our lives take and the experiences that make us who we are. Some form of hardship, loss or tragedy affects each character to a significant degree. However it is their resolve to move on and create new possibilities for themselves – the ‘possible life’ of the title – that gives the novel its thematic punch. Faulks is perhaps at his most brilliant when he writes the more life-affirming segments; they never seem glib or cheesy, but rather recognise the complex layering of experience that forms the basis of the characters’ identities and lives.

And this is why A Possible Life struck such a chord with me. Ultimately we all live with regret, with loss and with heartache, but it is our ability to be affected by these experiences and to move on from them simultaneously which shapes our lives. Sebastian Faulks has an astonishing ability to capture these feelings and mirror them back so that even though you are, on the surface, reading about the fortunes of a 1970s folk star, as you delve a little deeper more your own feelings and memories become intertwined with the characters on the page. It is this personal connection that brings me back to Draper’s quote; the product is not the book itself, but rather your experience of it.

Review by Catherine Horne

Click here to buy A Possible Life from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Or How Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford Kept Me From Springsteen) by Hayley Holland

I arrived back from a week’s leave on Monday to find an advance copy of Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin sitting on my desk, absolutely begging to be read. This is where I should admit to being just a little bit of a Springsteen fan, so having the chance to read a new biography before the publication date was like having Christmas arrive early.

Here was my dilemma though; I was already just over half way through a book. I don’t usually read more than one book at a time for two reasons, a) I get confused, and b) I always worry that I’ll put the first one down and never pick it up again. For 3 days Bruce sat next to my bed before I hit on a solution. The book I am currently reading is Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, a tetralogy of books. I had 50 pages to go in book two – No More Parades, so I figured I’ll finish book two, put it aside, read Bruce and then go back and read A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post. Too easy, I thought… How wrong I was!

I have never read anything by Ford Madox Ford and I will freely admit that the only reason I started Parade’s End is that along with my Springsteen obsession, I am also obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict plays the lead character (Christopher Tietjens) in the BBC adaptation of Parade’s End and I am one of those ‘read the book before I see the movie’ people. I’d bumbled my way through what I had already read and to be honest, did not really understand everything that was going on. I even had to download a dictionary app to help me understand some of the words that no one seems to use any more, (‘congeries’ springs to mind) and was counting down the pages until the end of No More Parades.

Then, I found it, that magical scene where you can picture exactly what the character is seeing and can imagine yourself there, right next to them. For me, it was when Christopher is being interviewed by General Campion in regards to the state of his (Christopher’s) marriage to Sylvia. His mind wanders and takes him back 19 months to where he is sitting on some tobacco plants in a field in Belgium, “waiting to point out positions to some fat home general who had never come”. The guy who owns the tobacco had screamed at him due to the ruined plants, in the distance he sees the dark lines of the German trenches and the “white puffs of cotton-wool” that existed on the dark lines – the Allied artillery practicing. He also sees “beneath the haze of light that, on a clouded day, the sea threw off, a shaft of sunlight fell, and was reflected in a grey blur….”, and of course as it happens during war, there are planes and shells and all of the horrid things that follow.

Oh, I thought, this Ford bloke is actually a pretty good writer.

I finished No More Parades and was then torn…. Carry on, or pick up Bruce instead?

I read the first paragraph of A Man Could Stand Up, a paragraph that consists of only one sentence, but my, what a sentence!

“Slowly, amidst intolerable noises from, on one hand the street and, on the other, from the large and voluminously echoing playground, the depths of the telephone began, for Valentine, to assume an aspect that, years ago it used to have – of being a part of the supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny”.

“Supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny”…..I just love the way those words roll off the tongue. So as you may have guessed, Bruce is just going to have to wait – Christopher, Sylvia, Valentine and the (I now realise) brilliant writing of Ford Madox Ford win this round. I am so thrilled I had the courage to give Parade’s End a go – I’ve even gone as far as adding The Good Soldier to my wishlist.

Review by Hayley Holland

Benedict Cumberbatch

REVIEW: The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow (Review by Mark Timmony)

The Iron Wyrm Affair is a brilliant alternate history, told in such a way that it reads like one of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies dropped into the middle of a steampunk fantasy with a side of science fiction. Saintcrow opens with the uneasy introduction of Archibald Clare and Emma Bannon (they are the Bannon & Clare of the series name) and then proceeds to throw the reader head first in a magnificent romp of a detective story and with aspirations of epic fantasy – aspirations it lives up to.

I was hesitant at first as I am not a big fan of Victorian era settings, but Saintcrow does a masterful job of taking the best parts of Victoriana and melding them in a pot of great world building that firmly shifts this tale into its own dimension (we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto). A world where Sorcerers rank above the aristocracy, mentaths are registered servants of the crown and so much back story is hinted at – and approached in a sideways manner – that it had me bursting at the seams for more.

Saintcrow is another one of these authors who seems to have mastered a more ‘economic’ approach to the telling of brilliant fantasy tales in a market that is known for its door-stop sized epics. This is good and bad. You get to the meat of the story faster, and Saintcrow’s writing is smart. She gives you enough without falling into the trap of info-dumping; but what she hints at is what I want more of. I want to know more about the Dragons and the Age of Flame, I want to know more about the sentient and deadly Gryphon’s that serve Britannia – which is both the name of the Empire and an ancient Spirit who inhabits the mortal coil of her avatar (the King or Queen – in the case of this book Queen Victrix [get it?]).

Saintcrow also does a superb job of bringing the city of London to life with her clockwork Altereds, the Black Warks ruled by Mehitabel and the Tower, haunted by the Shadow to name a few.Then she brings it all together in Technicolor with characters that burst from the page. Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime, has an intriguing back story and behaves in a most unlady-like fashion to fulfill her duty as a servant to the crown; while Archibald Clare, a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Encyclopedia Brown, has more knowledge than sense and over powering curiosity to know which get him in all sorts of bother.

Lilith Saintcrow’s jaunt into steampunk thrusts the reader into a Hatter’s vision of Victorian England flooded with magic and mayhem; where clockwork horses draw hansom’s along cobbled streets, the very presence of a Dragon can twist the fabric of reality, and sorcery and deductive reasoning (of a brain with intel like processing power) are all that stands between a deadly conspiracy and the survival of the Empire.

I can’t wait to see what Bannon & Clare tackle next.

Review by Mark Timmony

Click here to buy The Iron Wyrm Affair from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop

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